In The Court Of The Mad King
From the moment the Mad King returned from the hunt, I knew Lord Priebus was dead.
The other courtiers didn’t notice, or didn’t dare look, as the chamber’s heavy doors flew open and the Mad King stormed in, eyes bloodshot, sweat-slicked hair caked back on his brow. But I looked. I had to. Lord Priebus was the Keeper of the Council, and I was his clerk, his confidant, his friend. He had set out that morning with the King on one of his damned hunts, traipsing like fools through the swamps of Maralago. And even as my heart sank, I looked for him now, in his usual place, trailing behind the King among the members of the Council.
There was Archmagus Bannon, more boil than man, his mottled sneer barely visible in the shadows of his gray cowl; the Princess Ivanka, looking so radiant you could almost forget the atrocities carried out in her name; Lord Pence, the axeman, his dull eyes as vacant as ever; and last of all, the bastard Scaramucci, banker turned jester, grinning and dancing like a wide-eyed fool.
Of my Lord Priebus, there was no sign.
I turned away, eyes stinging with tears. I’d begged Lord Priebus not to go on that hunt, to not leave the safety of the Ivory Palace. The Mad King’s moods were as fickle as the rains, but of late his ire had turned more and more to my Lord. He blamed him for the rumors that leaked out of the palace, for his failures, for the mockery in the streets and the whispers of resistance.
The bastard Scaramucci had been the last straw. We’d all pleaded with the Mad King to not open the gates to him. “The man is a fool, a buffoon, a menace!” Lord Priebus had begged, even as Lord Spicer hurled himself from the parapets in protest. “You cannot allow his presence to disgrace this sacred hall!”
But the Mad King had held firm. And now Scaramucci stood by the throne, cackling to himself in blood-stained motely, while my Lord Priebus lay out there somewhere, forgotten, alone.
“Your Majesty,” a hoarse voice croaked, and all eyes turned towards the court floor. Lord Graham stepped forward, clearing his throat, as we all parted uneasily around him. Graham was one of the Purple Lords, the few bold enough to occasionally question the King, but never to dare act against him. “I cannot but notice that the Keeper of the Council is not with you…”
“The Keeper is Dead!” the Mad King boomed, emphasizing each word with a jab of his delicate hands. “Killed on the hunt! Sad!”
The court tittered and gasped, half false surprise and half the gnawing dread that any one of us could be next. The Purple Lords grumbled amongst themselves. Archmagus Bannon let out a phlegmatic chortle. And Scaramucci just hopped from foot to foot, clapping his hands as he sang to himself. “Dead in the swamp, dead in the swamp!”
I wanted to feel angry, to feel vengeful, to channel even an ounce of that white-hot rage that seemed to animate our monarch, that had earned him the title of "The Mad King". But I felt only the weighty sadness of inevitability. This had always been the only outcome, hadn’t it? From the moment we set out on this road, this had been the only possible destination.
I remembered the night the raven had flown in, bearing the fateful letter. Lord Priebus and I had been holed up in a crumbling tower in the Heartland, huddled around a fire while the battlefield below rumbled with the thunder of catapults and the clanging of steel. The War of the Twelve still raged, yet its outcome, once unthinkable, now seemed certain. Lord Jeb was dead, trampled by his own horse before the war had even begun. Lord Rubio had fallen to The Christie’s great hammer in the mountains of the north. Lords Carson and Huckabee, ever craven, had already bent the knee. Even Sessions, the Goblin-King himself, had sworn fealty to The Usurper, eager at the thought of the cruelty he could wreak. Only the Oiled Serpent Cruz, remained, his forces entrenched, his lust for power unquenchable.
Don’t do it, I’d begged Lord Priebus, as he held the letter in trembling hands. The Usurper will doom us all.
But Lord Priebus had just shaken his head, eyes wet with the sorrow of a man who knows he’s riding to his doom. “A Lord does as his King commands,” he’d said, voice cracking just a little. “And the Usurper shall be my King.”
Now Lord Priebus was dead, gods damn him, and I was trapped here, in this court of fools and cowards, presided over by the wheezing monstrosity that had once been Trump of Orange. I thought of the world we could have had, the life that could have been, and as always I thought of Amber, my friend, my love, Amber who’d always told me this would happen. Was she out there still somewhere, in the wilds of our ravaged Kingdom? Was she with the Resistance, as she’d always sworn to be, raiding the halls of Lords and clutching her locket of the Queen That Wasn’t?
Did she ever think of me?
A gruff rumble wrenched me out of my melancholy. “Your Majesty.” An older, hawk-faced man stepped forward, one hand resting idly on the pommel of his broadsword. The General Kelly. I didn’t know him well, but I’d heard rumors of his cruelty, his zealotry. A chill ran down my spine. “May I offer to take the Keeper’s place?”
The Mad King grinned, clasping his hands together. He loved nothing more than making his followers grovel for approval. “And what would you bring to my Council that he couldn’t?”
“Order and discipline!” Scaramucci repeated in a mocking sing-song, but the Mad King seemed intrigued.
For a man his age, Kelly moved in a blur. One moment, he was standing there, stiff as a nail. Then he was across the room, his sword plunged up to the hilt in Scaramucci’s chest. “But…” the jester said, staring down in dumb disbelief. “But I’m the Mooch.”
All of us jerked back, because even though bloodshed was a part of our lives, it was rare to see it so on the floor of the court. But the Mad King just laughed, and then Bannon laughed, and then all of them, from the lowest Knight of Fourchan to the Princess herself, were pointing and laughing, as the life faded from Scaramucci’s eyes, as General Kelly jerked out his sword and cleaned the blade. And I laughed too, not because I wanted to, but because I couldn’t stop it, the wild delirious laughter that was all I had anymore. This was our court, our world, our Kingdom. This was what Lord Priebus had built, what I’d helped him build. That was a weight I’d always carry. A weight I deserved.
Amber would fight. She’d resist. She’d make a better world, ignite the fire that would burn this twisted regime down. But it was too late for me. All I could do was burn.
“A great day for the Kingdom!” the Mad King bellowed. “A great day for us all!”
And the court roared with thunderous applause.